When my daughter was in her last year of high school, a meeting with her guidance counselor and the school vice-principal was coordinated during career week to discuss her future plans.
When she informed the staff that her ambitions as an adult were to become an esthetician or open a dog grooming business, the staff was taken aback. Don’t do that, they informed her. There was no money in those professions.
On the car ride home, we talked about that meeting. My advice to her was to follow her heart. Pursue her passion. Don’t listen to that terrible advice you were just given by alleged educators who were supposed to be there to help her succeed in life.
She did pursue her passion and became an esthetician. Today, at the age of 23, my daughter is part-owner of a salon. And guess what? The money’s pretty good, too.
Every time I think back to that conversation in that vice-principal’s office, it still angers me. It also makes me think of Mike Reid.
Reid walked away from fame and celebrity at the height of his prime to pursue his passion. If you don’t know his story, you should.
In 1969, Reid was voted the best defensive lineman in all of college football. A first-round draft pick, he quickly became an NFL star.
Then, at the age of 27, he walked about from pro football, eventually seeking to make a go of it in the music industry.
At the time of his transition, Reid drew on the wisdom of his father for strength.
“He was probably the most supportive person of my decision to leave football,” Reid told the Windsor Star of his father Bill, a railroad worker in their hometown of Altoona, Pa. “He hated his job and he could see that music was what I loved.”
When Reid thinks back to that day, he has just one regret. Bill Reid died before seeing his son make his mark in the music industry.
Decades after walking away from the gridiron, Reid is still delivering powerful hits.
A Nittany Lion Among Men
An All-American defensive tackle at Penn State, Reid finished fifth behind winner Steve Owens in the 1969 Heisman Trophy voting, a rarity for a defensive player, especially a lineman. He won the Maxwell Award as the U.S. college player of the year, the Outland Trophy as college football’s top guard or tackle and the Knute Rockne Award as the game’s top lineman.
Reid had never fit the stereotype of the football player, though. He played classical piano with the symphony. In 1972, Sports Illustrated described him as “the NFL’s answer to Schroeder,” the piano-playing character in the comic strip Peanuts.
Selected sixth overall in the 1970 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, Reid was the NFL defensive rookie of the year. Five years later, at the age of 27, he announced his retirement.
“I never felt that football defined me too much,” Reid said. “I came into pro football more or less curious to see if I could compete at that level.”
“By the time I quit, the World Football League had come into existence and they were drafting a lot of our players,” Reid recalled. “We were called into court to testify. I became somewhat discouraged with the route professional sports were taking.
“I had been through five knee operations, cracked a vertebrae and had a shoulder problem. The life of an athlete was no longer the life I wanted to lead.”
He’s quick to put to bed any notion that the transition from football icon to music industry wordsmith was a smooth one, or in fact his grand plan.
“I didn’t really quit football to go into music,” Reid said. “I just kind of drifted into it.
“I had studied music and earned my degree in music from college, but I never thought I would get into it professionally.”
He Writes The Songs
Though he hit No. 1 in 1990 with his single Walk On Faith, Reid prefers writing. He’s written 30-plus top-10 hits in both country and pop and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.
“They come as hard as hell,” Reid said of his songs. “I have to fight to get myself out of the way a lot. I’m a plodder, a meat and potatoes writer.”
He hit it big with Ronnie Milsap, winning Grammys for Stranger in the House, as well as Lost In The Fifties Tonight, both of which crossed over to the pop charts. Reid, 73, wrote Too Soon To Tell and I Can’t Make You Love Me for Bonnie Rait.
You might hear Adele perform one of his songs on stage in a Las Vegas casino, or Willie Nelson at the Grand Ole Opry. Reid’s work has even made it to Broadway, where The Ballad of Little Jo, a musical he co-wrote with Susan Schlesinger, won the 1997 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater.
“I tend to be sentimental,” Reid said. “I like love songs the best.
“I’m a hopeful person.”
His father’s advice is never far from Reid’s mind.
“He always told us that when we got out of bed in the morning, before our feet hit the floor, make sure you love what you are going to do that day,” Reid said.
Photos courtesy of the author
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